Maura Tierney Says This Is What Shocked Her About Her Cancer Diagnosis

She's since learned it's much more common than she thought.

You most likely recognize Emmy-nominated actor Maura Tierney as Dr. Abby Lockhart from the NBC hit series ER. But after 10 seasons of playing a healthcare professional on television, Tierney found herself starring in a real-life medical drama: She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, just a year after leaving the show. The actor took a hiatus from her Hollywood career to undergo a mastectomy, followed by three months of chemotherapy. Fortunately, more than a decade later, her life and career are back on track. Read on to learn what shocked her most about being diagnosed with cancer, and to learn the health advice she's now sharing with others.

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Tierney was shocked to develop cancer at such a young age.

Maura Tierney
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Tierney learned she had cancer at the age of 44, after discovering a suspicious lump in her breast. A mammogram and biopsy confirmed that the mass was cancerous, and doctors said she would need to undergo surgery and chemotherapy to fight the tumor.

Tierney says she was in disbelief at being diagnosed with cancer so young. "I was very shocked and surprised because of my age," she told Coping with Cancer Magazine in 2012. "I've since learned that it's not that shocking; there are plenty of young women diagnosed with breast cancer. The first thing I was thinking was, 'I'm so young; this can't be happening to me.' And I was scared because it was all so unknown," she recalled.

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She says there are many myths surrounding chemotherapy.

Maura Tierney purple background
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In 2012, Tierney teamed up with the pharmaceutical company Amgen in a campaign designed to dispel myths about cancer therapies. Together, they sought to raise awareness about what cancer patients can expect when undergoing chemotherapy.

While everyone will have a different reaction to the treatment, Tierney says her own course of chemotherapy was more "manageable" than she thought it would be. "I was afraid that my lifestyle was going to be completely altered and that I was going to be debilitated," she told Coping. "Looking back at my experience, one of the main challenges I faced was that I just didn't know what to expect from the chemotherapy my doctors told me I needed. I worried that I would be so sick I wouldn't be able to get up or even leave the house. Fortunately, this turned out to be untrue for me," she told Cancer Connect in 2018.

Tierney wants cancer patients to ask more questions.

Maura Tierney closeup portrait
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The actor says the best way to dispel myths, get informed, and lower your anxiety before cancer treatment is to ask your doctor as many questions as you can. "Arming yourself with information is really helpful. I trusted my doctors, and I spoke to them a lot. If anything was bothering me, I would call and ask them," she told Coping. "I learned that you can never ask your doctor a stupid question. I asked every single question that came to mind."

This is especially important, she says, because everyone's course of treatment comes with its own set of rules. "People think they can't eat raw vegetables or fresh fruits, or they can't hang out with their grandchildren or keep their pets," she explained. "The truth is everyone's situation is different, so it's really important that you speak with your doctor to understand what you can and can't do while undergoing chemotherapy."

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She says this is how her diagnosis has changed her.

Maura Tierney
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While speaking with People Magazine in 2012, the ER star opened up about the ways her cancer diagnosis changed her perspective. "I think I always kind of lived in the moment. I don't think [cancer] changed me that way," she explained. "But I spend a lot more time with my family now—that's one solid difference."

She's also more conscious and appreciative of the scientific advancements that ultimately saved her life. "I have a lot of gratitude, for sure. I'm deeply grateful for my family and for science, technology, and medicine," she added in conversation with Coping. "I'm still gaining perspective on it all."

Since her recovery, Tierney's career has shown no signs of slowing down. Most notably, she's recently appeared in American Rust, Your Honor, The Affair, The Report, and Beautiful Boy. And for anyone just now entering the fog of a frightening health diagnosis, she has this advice: "Hang in there. It sounds so simple, but hang in there," she shared with Coping. "That's what I'm doing."

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Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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